Friday, March 6, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 1] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Shirley McClay @ her blog, SunnyGlade. Click here to stop by to read and share more great fiction!

Author's note: This is a story that has been in my head for sometime. There's far too much to cram into one mega-post, so I'm going to break it up into two parts, possibly three. Enjoy. Rachel is a very mysterious, but loveable character, who has made it her life goal to stand apart from her mistakes and do something with her life. Have a great weekend and thanks a bunch for stopping by!

Rachel took the crumbling stone steps, two at a time. Her heavy backpack thudded rhythmically with each bouncing leap and she wondered when the maintenance crew would deem the steps worthy of repair.

The college parking lots were packed as usual and expressionless faces straggled by as she hoisted the straps of the backpack and doggedly continued towards the beat-up, sky-blue Jeep at the end of parking lot L.

It had been a long and difficult day and her feet were hurting as she shuffled forward, absently rubbing one tattooed arm. A faint smile surfaced as she admired the overlapping designs of dark blue and light gray. The black was the most visible, but to her, she hardly saw it. The swirling floral mass on her bicep was her pride and joy. The smile tugged itself out a few degrees more.

“Yo, Rock, you comin’ clubbing tonight?”

The sound of the former nickname made her cringe, but Rachel stiffened outwardly, keeping her head high. “The name’s Rachel Banner, not Rock.” Rachel turned, already retrieving her artificial smile for the anticipated argument to come.

“That’s funny, ‘cause you look an awful lot like her.” The stranger drawled. "and she's a great dancer."

Rachel turned to take in the black leather and gray-and-white feather tucked in the band of the black cowboy hat. “Ben?!” Her jaw dropped and she gaped at him while her mind clicked together the necessary puzzle pieces for her to recognize her old friend. “You’re alive!” Time froze for a mere fraction of a second, before her heart sputtered a few beats. "I knew you weren't dead!" Tears welled up within her, but the revelation wasn't as shocking as she'd expected. A little half of her had always known he couldn't die.

His arms opened and she readily launched herself forward, hugging his neck. “Yup.” He hugged her tight. “Missed ya.”

She pulled away. “I thought you were dead.” Her expression darkened and she punched his shoulder, half-heartedly. “I really thought you were dead.”

He shrugged. “Guess I don’t die that easily then.”

“Liar.” She whispered, grabbing him back in a hug, this was the man that had literally pulled her up and out from the bowels of the streets, brushing off the gutter muck to set her back on the track of a decent life. “Mark put a bullet in your head.” She tried to keep her voice even.

“Skull’s too thick for bullets.”

“I saw him shoot you.”

He patted her back. “And I’m sorry you did, baby girl.”

She sniffled. “That’s all you have to say? An apology? I thought you were dead, Ben. Dead! As in gone, never coming back and here you are and I’m all, just…”

“Normal with it.” He filled in. “I know.” He sighed. “Mark was in on it, but I couldn’t say a word.”

One hand clenched into a fist. “He was in on it?”

“Now, Rock…Rachel.” He quickly corrected. “Sometimes the decisions made up there are a little different from the realities down here. If I didn’t have his help, I would be dead.”

“So you say.” She gently disengaged from him and stood at arm’s length, swabbing at the gigantic tears streaking down her face. “So you all say. When will you finally treat me like a grown-up, someone who deserves to know what’s really going on around her, rather than having people she hardly knows make decisions for her, based on their interpretation of her well-being?”

His mouth twitched, fighting a smile. “Probably when you’re finally twenty-one, kid.” He slung an arm around her shoulder and continued out to the college parking lot with her. “Seriously, there’s a party at Zaft’s tonight, you coming?”

“I can’t. Homework.” She readjusted the backpack once more. “you know, you could offer to carry it.”

“And ruin your exercise?” He retorted, but he took it from her anyway, slinging it over one shoulder. “What’d you drive here with?”

She shrugged. “My Jeep. Same as always.”

He snorted. “That pile of junk? What’s wrong with your bike?”

She glared at him.

“Oh right. Mama still squawking at you?”

“She doesn’t squawk….she just sort of…squeaks.” Rachel jammed her hands in her jeans pockets, searching for her keys. "And she hates my bike."

"Someone hating something of yours never stopped you before."

Rachel was quiet for a moment. "She sold it." She said simply.

"What?" A flash of emotion showed plainly on his face. "She sold it? When? To who?"

"I don't know who and she did it on a day I actually came to school." She sighed. "Thanks to Mark, I've been skipping one class too many these days. I'm swamped with homework and I think I'm going to flunk this entire semester."

"Pay Justin to do it for you." He suggested, matter-of-factly. "Quit stressing on it."

She gave him a look.

“Okay, okay. I get it. You don't cheat." He rolled his eyes. "Really, what are you trying to be a martyr? Why don't your just do your homework tomorrow?” He suggested. “We’ve missed you. I've missed you!”

“I can’t. Mom’s gonna pitch a fit and I really can’t…don’t…I don’t need that right now. I’m serious, Ben.”

He sighed in mock sadness. “You’re the first gang chick I know of, who puts her skeptical, suspicious mother first…along with her homework.”

“Give it back.” Rachel snapped, reaching for her backpack and sorting through her keys with the other hand. “Unlike you, some of the rest of us actually want to go through school and learn something.”

“Now Rock, that’s an insult to my intelligence.” The drawl had returned. “I went through school just fine, I just didn’t see the point in graduating.”

“Which has left a blemish on what I’m sure was a positively sparkling record before, am I correct?” She asked, sarcastically. “And gimme my backpack.”

“It’s a couple ounces shy of sixty pounds.” He shot back. “As if. You’re just as skinny as the last time I saw you. What are you trying to do? Snap your spine in half? It’s working…you know if you snap your spinal cord you’re going to be-”

“Stop changing the subject, Ben.” Her hand dropped as she stopped, deliberately to look at him. “Why are you here?”

“What?” He stopped as well, his expression innocent.

“Why are you here?” She repeated each word, slowly. “I sort of guessed that maybe you were still alive, so you obviously haven’t come here to shock the daylights out of me and the only time you’re this helpful, is when you want something. What do you want?”

“I don’t want anything from you.” He held up his hands, seemingly horrified. “Really, Rock.”

“Rachel.” She growled. “I’m not a gang chick anymore. I’m not a gang anything.”

An eyebrow perked upwards. “Really? So all the black leather and wearing those skinny shirts that show off of your Mark of Denson is just all for show?”

She looked away for a moment, contemplating. “Okay then.” She lifted her chin. “What did Mark send you for?”

His answer was to dump her backpack on the ground. “Mark didn’t send me, but if that’s the way you’re going to take this, then-”

“Then quit the playacting!” She forced the words through her teeth, then bent and grabbed the backpack, stalking towards her Jeep. “This is a horrible way to start the weekend.”

“Look, Rachel.” He hurried after her, grabbing the driver’s door before she could slam it in his face. “I’m sorry, okay? I know this is a bad time and I know there is a lot that you really ought to know about what goes on, but…”His voice trailed off. “Look, can I get a ride? I walked all the way here, bike's in the shop.”

She closed her eyes for a minute, then tugged on the door handle. He let go. “Sure. Where to?” She opened her eyes, flicking the door locks open.

He eased himself into the passenger seat and then wearily cast a look behind and around them. “I’ll tell you on the way.”

“Okay, suit yourself.”

“You wanted to know what was going on…right?” His question was veiled and guarded at the real reason beneath them.

Rachel felt her breath stop as her body went through the motions of shock and then sudden revival. “Mark sent you to brief me.”

“No.” Ben’s voice was gentle. “I volunteered. He said it was time to cash in…you owe a lot, Rachel.”

It was about an hour later when Rachel was standing on the front porch of her house that she began to wish she’d never said yes. When Ben had first volunteered to finally let her in on what had been going on with him, she wished he hadn’t.

“I didn’t want to know.” She muttered, fumbling with the house key, her backpack precariously balanced on her left shoulder. “Why’d he have to tell me?”

The door opened for her, and Rachel automatically skipped a step backwards. “Mom!” She blinked, then cautiously stepped into the house, setting her backpack on the wooden bench in the entryway. “Something the matter?”

“You’re late.” Dark eyes skittered over her face quickly and then to the tattoo on her left bicep. “Been busy?”

“Yeah.” Rachel rolled her neck to the side. “I have a lot of stuff to do these days. Lots of work.”

“Work that includes your skipping school? Exactly what kind of work do you think I wouldn’t-”

Rachel felt her face heat. “Mom…oh mom, no! I’m not…you…I’m not…” She sputtered for a moment, then an awkward silence hung in the air. “I was just…late today, that’s all. And I’ve missed school because…” The sentence trailed off as her mind blanked.

“Because?” Her mother repeated, voice becoming shrill. “I’ve put up with enough things from you to last a lifetime, this was your last chance!”

“Was?” Rachel cocked her head to the side. “Mom, I thought it still is.”

“Not anymore it isn’t.” The front door was roughly yanked shut and the chain locked into place. “Well, at least more in a sense, not here.” She amended. “But if missing school doesn’t seem to be a problem for you, then I suppose a temporary change of address shouldn’t be that difficult either.”

“Temporary change of address?” Rachel hurried after her. “Mom, what are you talking about? Are you kicking me out?”

The accusing dark eyes leveled straight at her. “Kicking you out would entail changing on the locks on the doors and the windows and installing a security system. I am not, kicking you out, Rachel, but you need a change and I’ve already arranged for it.”

“Which is…?”

“You’re going to stay with your Uncle Thom in Waynesburg.”

“U-uncle Thom?” Rachel felt the tension drain from her. “That’s fine…actually, when?” Her cop-slash-detective Uncle was one of her favorite relatives and gave new meaning to the words "tough love". He was also the person who cared a little more beyond her outer appearance to the tangled mess inside. The actual news was welcome, but Rachel felt a tiny nagging in the back of her head. Mark wanted her here, working on..."stuff". There was no way he'd let her skip town like that and there was no way she could explain that to anyone else. At least not to anyone who wanted to live for the next couple of years.

“Today.” Her upper half disappeared into the kitchen cupboard. “I’ve already packed your things.”

“Today?” The panic began to return. “As in now?”

“Yes…is there something wrong with that?”

“Actually, yes, I have a few things I need to take care of and-”

“Good. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. Your flight leaves at four, so eat your lunch and there should be enough time to take a shower too, if you’d like.”

“I can’t leave now, Mom. I have stuff to do.”

“The ticket is on the table, near your plate.”

“I…okay, fine!” Rachel threw up her hands. “Fine. I’ll go, but guess what? I’m not flying!” She threw the words over her shoulder as she stalked to the dining room, pausing to grab the plate of mac and cheese.

Her comfort food yes. But also a bribe. The plane ticket taunted her from the neat position beside the fork. She hesitated for a moment, then set the plate down, turning to go.

“Where are you going?”

“To Unk’s.” Rachel headed for the coat closet and fished out her thick, heavy leather coat. “I hope the ticket’s refundable, because I’m not flying. No way am I going to go up in the air where there could be crazy people trying to kill me.”

“People wouldn’t be trying to kill you if you hadn’t gotten mixed up with them in the first place! How are you going to get to Thom’s? Your Jeep can barely make it to school and back.”

“How observant of you to notice, Mother.” Rachel struggled into the coat. “I’m hitchhiking. Don’t go all panicky and everything, either. I’ll call you when I get there.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Unless you arrest me and literally strap me down in the back of something to drive all the way from West Virginia to Tennessee, then yeah, I can do that.” She turned on her heel, pausing in the entry way to grab her cellphone and wallet from the small pocket of her backpack. “I’ll be fine.”

“You’re not what I’m worried about.” The dark eyes flashed angrily, in tandem with the scowl.

Rachel rolled her eyes. “Of course, I’m sorry. I meant to say, I’ll be sure to stay out of trouble and if I’m arrested I won’t give my legal name, so the family name will stay all nice and smooth and shiny!” With those last words, Rachel grabbed at the chain on the door and then exited the house, taking the steps two at a time.

“If you think you’re you going to-”

“Save it for when I get back mom.” Rachel snapped. If I come back. Every time I try to protect you, you make me feel like dirt. “Because if you really did care at all for me, you’d have a decent way of showing it! Not trying to scrub me out like I’m some black spot on the perfect white linens of your life!”

The afternoon sun offered a breath of warmth and Rachel shoved her hands deep into the coat pockets. Whatever was being said in her wake, she could no longer hear as she turned the corner, blocking out the angry shouting.

“When crazy people go insane.” She murmured. “Does it mean they’re entirely mad?” She walked slowly at first, picking up the pace as the night began to form in the darkening sky. She found the garage she was looking for, a spiffy little two-fer home, with pink petunias neatly lining the driveway.

Swallowing hard, she walked up to the door and knocked. The hulking fellow that opened it visibly started. “Rock?” He exclaimed, in a stage-whisper. “What the-what are you doing here?” He hurriedly stepped out on the porch, yanking the door shut behind him. “You really shouldn’t be here.”

“I have as much right as any one of us. Hi Justin.” She said wearily. “And all I’m wanting is a ride.”

“A ride?” He scoffed. “We’re not a taxi service.”

“I’ll pay all the speeding tickets.” She gauged his reaction. “Promise.”

“Where are you headed?”

She shrugged. “My uncle. Waynesburg. Not that far, I don’t think.”

“You’ve never even driven there have you?” He countered. “It ain’t safe.”

“Isn’t safe.” She corrected, automatically. “Listen, that’s my problem, okay? I just need to be mobile and I need to get there fast.”

There was a moment of silence and then he stepped off the porch and headed for the garage. “You can take Robbie’s bike.”

“Really?” A small bubble of hope welled up within her chest. “Wait a minute…is this so I don’t put any speeding tickets on your perfect record?”

He cringed. “Robbie doesn’t care if he gets another one.”

She choked out a laugh. “Right. I thought it was the driver that got the ticket and the bike just got a citation.”

He half-shrugged. “You running again, kid?”

Rachel took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I don’t know yet.” She looked away. “But I’ll make sure the bike’s fine.”

“I’m not worried about the bike.” Robbie’s voice cut in as he edged out from the shadows, his slender frame swathed in black and dark brown, barely visible in the solar lights glowing along the garage pathway. “You okay, kid?”

“Getting smothered by that question, maybe.” She countered. “Look, can I borrow the bike, or what?”

“I’ll give you a ride.” Robbie brushed past, heading for the bike and grabbing the helmet from the workbench. “Get back in there before they miss you, Justin. Just tell ‘em I left.”

Justin barely nodded, turning quickly to head back to the house. “Lock the door behind you, ya hear?”

Robbie grunted. Rachel hurried forward, taking the proffered helmet. “Robbie, you don’t have to do this.”

“Sure I do. Ben will have my hide if I don’t. Besides, kid, you shouldn’t be out here alone.”

Rachel rolled her eyes. “Why does everyone assume I just can’t look out for myself?”

“Maybe because you make it so believable.” Robbie countered. “Helmet on?”

“Duh.” Her voice was muffled.

“Good girl. Hold on tight.”

© 2009 Sara Harricharan


LauraLee Shaw said...

Wow, very engaging for sure!

Joanne Sher said...

What intense characters! I can feel the angst and stress and panic. Looking forward to more of this, girlie! Great stuff.

The Surrendered Scribe said...

You can feel the tension between mother and daughter. Great backstory about the gang. This could really go some places!!

Catrina Bradley said...

Good one, Sara! I can't wait to find out more about Rachel and what's going on. I'm glad you aren't done yet or I'd be really disappointed. :)

Micah said...

Hi Sawa... You've got some good characters here! I can feel the emotions. There's enough NOT said that makes me want to keep reading to find out why....

Love you,


Hoomi said...

Interesting set-up Sara. I'm looking forward to seeing where you take this next.